Without allocating more funds toward human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations, there may be better public health results if funds were devoted to vaccinating boys as well as girls.

New research published in Epidemics suggests that the highest benefit from a vaccine program can be achieved with a strategy involving both genders, provided that vaccination costs are comparable between males and females.

The researchers noted in their study that almost all cervical cancers, up to 90% of anal cancers, and up to 60% of oropharyngeal cancers are caused by HPV.

In the past, critics of same-sex strategies have argued that the vaccine was designed specifically to prevent cervical cancer. Supporters, however, argue that the vaccine benefits both men and women.

Study author Marc Ryser, a visiting assistant professor at Duke University, told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists who are able to administer the vaccine in their state may promote the HPV vaccine among boys in a number of ways.

For example, pharmacists may educate their patients that the vaccine reduces boys’ risk of developing cancers of the head, neck, anus, and penis, and it also reduces the risk of developing genital warts.

“It is important to emphasize that the HPV vaccine is much more than a vaccine against cervical cancer, as it prevents a number of different cancers in both women and men,” Dr. Ryser told Pharmacy Times. “In addition, vaccinated males provide indirect protection to their sexual partners, thereby increasing the population benefit of the vaccine.”

Education and outreach are essential in raising awareness about the vaccine’s safety and benefits, he maintained.

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that boys receive the vaccine, only 13.9% of boys do so, the study authors stated. Among preadolescent and early adolescent US girls, only 37% have been administered the full series of the vaccine, and this percentage has remained relatively stagnant over the past few years.

The researchers examined different vaccination scenarios that took into consideration the costs of patient education and the costs of vaccination based on the per-dose price of the vaccine, for example.

With the knowledge that girls’ vaccination rates have plateaued, the study authors’ findings suggest that if some of the money devoted to encouraging girls to become vaccinated could be reallocated to promoting boys’ vaccinations, the percentage of vaccinated boys would rise. Efforts to have boys vaccinated have not been as robust as they have for girls’ vaccinations, so a greater health benefit may arise from having a greater emphasis on boys.